City Council Burns Voters Over Marijuana
It took a couple of hours. More than a couple of dozen people spoke. Both sides of the question of whether to lift Yakima’s ban on marijuana grow, package and retail operations presented their arguments. In the end, the fact that nearly six in 10 voters said no to marijuana meant nothing to four members of the Yakima City Council, who said they know better than the people who elected them, and they voted to lift the ban.
Where to start? Those in favor of lifting the ban used the same tired old arguments. “Hey man, alcohol and tobacco are worse.” “ There is already a lot of weed here now.” “ We need “education.” “Nobody ever died from pot.” “Kids are getting it from the black market, this will stop that.” “Let’s control it and make it SAFE.” Blah, blah, blah. None of that matters if the citizens of Yakima don’t want it in THEIR town -- and they don’t.
The opponents presented some very compelling testimony. Educators worried for their kids, Child Protective Services experts told of problems of marijuana in families, concerned parents pressed for an All-American city free of pot shops, a tearfulyoung mother offered a firsthand account of the devastating impact of addiction on her family and children, drug and alcohol experts shared their advice and it ALL fell on deaf ears.
What was particularly insulting were the reactions by Councilwoman Kathy Coffey of District 5 and Councilwoman Holly Cousens of District 7 and here’s why.
First, in an effort worthy of Supreme Court Justice Roberts twisting and turning trying to justify Obamacare, Councilwoman Coffey tried to rewrite the meaning of math and percentages in an lame effort to minimize the impact of her rejection of the will of the voters, of HER voters. Here’s how.
Her contribution to the post-testimony but pre-vote discussion was to say that in a city of 93,000 only 28,200 voted on I-502 -- the thought being that somehow wasn’t significant? Point of reference: All the winning votes for seven seats in 2015 totaled 7,790 votes. In other words, the “discredited” 2012 vote total was more than three and a half times greater than the total winning number of votes that seated the entire council in the first place! She continued by restating that there were 15,654 who voted NO on I-502 while 12,559 voted yes, so after all, that’s only a margin of victory of approximately 3,100 voters, so no big deal right? Let’s examine her premise.
The county says the 2012 turnout for I-502 was about 74 percent. Sure, we would all prefer a 100 percent turnout all the time so as to be absolutely positive of the intent and the will of the people -- but -- nobody, not even Kathy Coffey, can control the number of folks who actually bother to vote. So the vote is what it is, and that’s what all sides have to deal with -- in the final analysis it IS the expressed will of the people. Nobody, not even Kathy Coffey can read the minds of those who didn’t vote. Her elected job is to represent those who did vote. And there she failed. Point of reference: The 2015 General Election voter turnout that put Mrs. Coffey into office was … wait for it … JUST 35 percent. But that IS significant, right Mrs. Coffey? And for the record, in Coffey’s district, 513 MORE people voted NO than voted yes on marijuana. She ignored them.
So the 2012 election numbers for I-502 are this: 56 percent of Yakima city voters said NO to pot and 44 percent said yes. Coffey tried to discredit that as not a meaningful margin, but that’s a 12-point margin of victory and a significant double-digit message sent loud and clear to the council. Point of reference: The statewide passage of I-502 was … wait for it … 56 percent! Significant enough for you, Councilwoman Coffey? Sixty-two percent MORE than the turnout that elected you!
Coffey stressed that the 56 percent was “only” a 3,000-plus vote difference overall between no and yes votes. Somehow to her that makes it comparatively less significant? Only if that serves your personal agenda?
And here’s the deal with Councilwoman Cousens. She made the motion to dump the ban, but before she did, she made a big showing of thanking ALL who came forward to speak and she stressed how “important” it was to hear from the public on this issue. The question everyone must ask is, what didn’t she hear from the I-502 vote in her District 7? Here are the numbers.
District 7 is the city’s western-most district and populated with the second-most registered voters. Some 8,102 ballots were sent out in 2015, and about 2,750 came back, an insignificant(?) 36 percent. Cousens won with 1,609 votes. How did District 7 vote in 2012 on I-502? Remember 2,750 voted in 2015, but in 2012 on I-502, a much more representative(?) 6,088 people voted, with 3,560 of them voting NO on marijuana and 2,528 voting yes. Do the math: That’s 1,040 MORE no vote votes than yes votes! I’ll repeat, more than twice as many people voted NO on marijuana than voted yes on Holly Cousens, and then the difference between yes and no on pot was 1,040 MORE NO VOTES!
Cousens ignored a thousand votes while she was thanking a couple of dozen people for speaking to the council, more than half of whom she also ignored!
Yakima businessman Ken Marble made an excellent presentation, ultimately asking who really benefits from introducing more marijuana into the community. Conclusion: Pot shops win, community loses. As a former lawyer, he suggested that in a land-use issue such as this, the standard for all council members was to avoid even the “appearance of conflict of interest.” He challenged Cousens and Mayor Gutierrez, both of whom received campaign money from the marijuana industry, to recuse themselves from the vote. Guiterrez went on the defensive and said she would not, but Cousens, who received a higher percentage of her campaign funds from pot supporters than did Gutierrez, and whose personal relationship is tied to the marijuana industry, sat in silence, letting Gutierrez carry the fight.
So one last point on all the math. Coffey suggests a 3,000-vote margin isn’t “significant” -- and why wouldn’t she, considering that half that number --1,500 more NO than yes votes -- came from her District 5 and Cousens’ District 7?
To conclude, the council member who offered the motion to lift the ban and the council member who seconded the motion basically flipped the bird to 1,500 of their constituents in doing so. And for what? No real explanations were given except Cousens offering “safety” as a goal. A pretty good case was made time and again throughout testimony that safety comes from a less readily available supply of marijuana.
Elections have consequences.
The plaza is one, the pot ban is another. More to come?
No doubt 44 percent are thrilled tonight, while 56 percent are wondering why their vote was ignored and what they might do the next time it's time to vote.